Working in the gobbler shop


By Ashley Johnson

With fine factory-made knives, David Sellers strips thin slivers of wood from a long and hollow turkey box call. As he glides the knife around the inside of the box in his shop out in the country on the Decatur County line, tiny little ribbon curls of wood peel off and fall onto his workbench.
“It’s just like a violin,” he said. “The wood is shaped until a sound resonates perfectly through the structure.”
Only the turkey call, which looks like a miniature size of a fraternity paddle, doesn’t echo out sounds fit for an orchestra. When the box slides open and closed, squawks and screeches ring out. The noises of a turkey hen feel like they are stuck on the inside of your eardrum ringing outward, not the other way around.
But Sellers, like a musician, has an ear for when the calls are perfectly in tune and have the exact tonnage of a turkey. That is why in the 20 years he has been making a variety of calls, he has learned how to vary them and perfect his process.
“You shave the wood and scrape the inside until you start to feel it has enough flex for it to create and good sound and have tone,” Sellers said about the box call. “You want to keep scraping until it goes a little on the squeaky side and scrape it a little thinner. Then you put it away and let it equalize.”
He said he could let them set for a week or two but, “then you come back to them” and tune them again, scraping more little ribbons of wood.
But Sellers didn’t invent the tuning process. He said he goes by writings of a famous turkey call maker named Neil Cost. Cost invented the box call — first calling them paddle calls when they began as large as a paddle and got smaller and smaller.
Sellers has been crafting his own calls for 20 years and recently his 8-year-old son Daniel has jumped in to help, creating some of his own variations and processes.
“Daniel has come up with some innovations like he made something called a round-tip call,” Sellers said.
His son crafted a number of the scratch calls using camphor wood, suggesting the smell might double as an insect-repellant. Daniel then sold a number of them at school for a holiday festival project.
“They ended up being some of the best sounding calls we have made,” Sellers said of the new calls.
The two work in a shop in their backyard. Sellers being a welding professional for the local college, has crafted his own tools and saws to help with the process.
On the fancy box calls he has crafted, he has something no other calls found in stores have — long radius holes. The majority of calls found in stores have small circular holes that let the air flow through and resonate, giving a certain tone. Again, these holes can be compared to those of string instruments like the “F holes” in violins.
But the holes Sellers created are long and skinny ovals, unlike the simply drilled circular holes that come from department store packages.
“These pot-type calls have been around for hundreds of years, but the actual radius grooves are my trademark and something I came up with,” Sellers said. “I think it really, really sounds good. I made them with a homemade machine I built and without giving too many of my secrets away — it involves an old boat trailer spindle.”
And apart from the joy the two get from engineering and altering the sound the calls make, the joy really comes when using their own calls in the woods during the turkey season.
“Using your own calls out there adds a whole new dimension to hunting and that’s the reason I originally started making calls is that it is just different going into the woods with something you actually built instead of buying it at the store,” Sellers said. “
Sellers added that to some it may be crazy, but he also gets fulfillment from the fact that the wood used to make the turkey calls is all from wood he chopped down in the area.
“I cut the trees down myself and use a homemade saw mill,” he said. “From a standing tree to a finished call and its all using local wood, even the Asian woods like camphor. Many calls I will take and write inside where the wood came from.”
While the two have no intentions of going full-time with their unique and one-of-a-kind craft, they are open for orders of custom calls. Those who have wood from a special place can see it be turned into calls.

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